Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where Are We?

This is my view RIGHT NOW!

[add/edit] OK, here's a hint (I took this pic a couple hours later)... too easy now...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Food Prizes!

I love food prizes! This was a prime I won in the SLO crit. Maybe nobody else was sprinting, I don't know. A few laps later, I didn't even twitch a muscle for the $50 cash prime... I had already scored these beautiful berries.

Over the years, I've also won a Cherry Pie, a HUGE tub of almonds, coffee, beer, and several bottles of wine. Many restaurant gift certificates too, but that's not the same.

There's something primal about sprinting ...hunting... for food. At some basic level, I suppose we humans are wired to pursue only two things, one of which is probably not suitable for a bike-race prize(*). That leaves the other: food.

(*) -- There are exceptions of course. Years ago, the Tour de Nez in Reno offered up a unique prime ...a gift certificate to the Mustang Ranch! (Click that link at your own risk, i.e., not at work or with children nearby.)

Training Week -- 7/21 - 7/27

More intensity.

Mon: 1.5 hrs; recovery
Tue: 1 hrs; lunchtime hammerfest
Wed: 2 hrs; Hope Ranch Hellervals + 9 sprints on Winchester Cyn
Thu: 2.5 hrs; OSM + PC (tempo), OSM big gear seated, OSM 30-x-30 secs
Fri: 1.5 hrs; OSM recovery
Sat: 3.5 hrs; roco ride to 2nd Casitas hill
Sun: 4 hrs; San Marcos crit (4th in 45+) + recce of Natz RR course

Total: 16 hrs

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Training Week -- 7/14 - 7/20

Lots of intensity.

Mon: 1 hr; recovery on MTB
Tue: 1.5 hr; lunchtime hammerfest + a little more
Wed: 2 hr; Hope Ranch Hell'rvals + OSM (moderate)
Thu: 1.5 hr; OSM, Z's torture TT, 14:54
Fri: 0.5 hr; MTB spin
Sat: 3 hr; Sisquoc P/1/2, 22nd
Sun: 1 hr; SLO crit, 45+, 6th

Total: 10.5

Friday, July 18, 2008

[add/edit: 7/21 7:00 AM]
...[add/edit: 7/28 9:00 PM] ...[add/edit 7/29 11:00 PM]

It's one thing to ride around town wearing "Dopers Suck" socks; it's quite another to really get your head around the problem and successfully articulate your feelings.

I've intended to blog about doping in cycling for a long time, but I always stall at word-one because: (A) it's a really complex issue; (B) it's emotionally charged; (C) I'm neither a good enough writer, nor do I have the time, to do justice to the subject; and (D) there are plenty of other folks who could talk much more authoritatively about it, some of whom may read this blog.

And yet here I am, finally, typing about doping in cycling.

Rumbling around inside me are a bunch of poorly-formed thoughts ...about Ricco and Piepoli, the rest of the pro peloton, history, solutions, lower-level doping (i.e., in local/regional racing), victims, LeMond, and more. There's no point in waiting for inspiration to produce the perfectly-formed vowel movement on this topic. It will never come. Rather, this will be a bout of verbal diarrhea, if you will, and it will be spread out loosely over a few days perhaps. I'll leave this blog post on top for awhile, and add to it as time and motivation allow. Maybe the process of writing about all this stuff will help focus my thoughts. You are free to read along, or ignore it and wait for the regularly scheduled programming to resume.

Of course, if you have an opinion you want to share, anonymously or otherwise, feel free to comment. Or you could even email me some text and I'll put it in the post, again anonymously or not. The address is over somewhere on the right of the page.

OK, so why write about it now?

My Dream
Literally, my dream last night. Doping has invaded my sleep, dammit! Gina and I were at a party. In a giant living room, like the size of a basketball court, and all the people were formally dressed in tuxedos, women in long gowns. Wide variety of ages, teenagers to grandparents. It seemed to be some kind of graduation party. We didn't know anybody and we were dressed normally, read weekend casual slobbish. We felt an urgency to get out. For some reason I had with me an old Schwinn Stingray with banana seat and hi-rise bars, and fortunately Gina's rear end is perfectly sized, so she sat on the handlebars and I started to ride us out of the party. As I pedaled through the crowd in the giant living room, we noticed that most of the party-goers had hypodermic needles and they were poking themselves. That seemed odd to us, but I was more concerned with two other issues. First, I didn't want to get dirty chain grease on any of the fancy-dressed people, and second, the headset on the bike was very loose. About this time, the location somehow morphed into an office building and the party-goers morphed into middle-aged businessmen wearing suits. And it got way more crowded. I was bumping and elbowing people to get through and the businessmen were reacting with typical alpha-male aggression. I thought I was going to get into a fight. All of a sudden, Gina and I were at a wide double door and no more people were around. And then I woke up.

As far as I can recall, that's the first dream I've ever had involving hypodermic needles. I've never seen anybody use needles, other than in a doctor's office or the hospital.

All I can imagine is that the dream resulted from yesterday's Tour de France bust of Ricardo Ricco using EPO (or whatever it was). I was a sucker, and that one hit me pretty hard.


Yes, I was suckered again this year. Just like Charlie Brown, always thinking that finally Lucy will hold the football. Each of the last five years I've felt that, finally, it would be mostly a clean Tour de France.

So, at this point, with three separate doping busts already, what confidence can we have that the rest of the TdF peloton is clean? None.

So Charlie Brown becomes dark and cynical. He believes that there hasn't been a clean Tour podium since 1990. He wonders if the new American teams, with their highly touted internal doping controls, are just the latest Lucy tempting him with the football. He remembers that VDV came from that Bruyneel machine, just like Heras, Landis, Hamilton, and Beltran. He wants to believe, but how many times can Charlie fall and still trust Lucy?

... long pause ... sorry about that ...

Alrighty then, now that the 2008 Tour is over, whatcha think about doping? Are you ready to line up and kick that football, confident that Lucy will not pull it away so you flop on your butt?

Once again, ...perhaps, ...just maybe, ...I think this might have been a cleaner Tour. Why? Well, maybe just blind optimism. Or perhaps because some guys that were top contenders in the past few years were really struggling this time. Also, much has been made about Sastre's time up Alpe d'Huez, which was a few minutes longer than some of the more notorious winners on that mountain. Dunno...

Of course in today's environment you have the flip side, namely, immediate suspicion of any performances by riders that surpass their previous efforts. How many people around the world think that Bernard Kohl and/or Stefan Schumacher might still be on the program, based solely on their superior performances? I have no opinion on either of them because, honestly, they were barely on my radar before this year's Tour.

One thing I would bet on however, is that this year's Tour still had a fair number of dopers. No way could you go from most all the riders doping a few years ago, to a 100% clean race this year. Does anybody think that this year's four busts cleaned out all the dopers? And by the way, I must disclose that my viewpoints are strongly influenced by books like these...

You owe it to yourself to buy or borrow them and give them a good open-minded read.

I've heard many people wonder in amazement how any riders (e.g., Ricco) could be dumb enough to dope this year, with the increased scrutiny and publicity. I think that's an easy one. Guys like Ricco, and certainly others, are in a no-win situation. They've doped for so long--in many cases, before they reached the top level--that if they stop now, they'd be hopelessly off the back and an embarrassment to themselves and their team. Bottom line for some of those riders is...

No Dope = No Tour

Think about this: doping probably doesn't raise everyone's level equally. If your natural hematocrit is 40, and you boost it up to 49.9, you've increased your O2-carrying capacity by nearly 25%. Compare that to a doper whose natural HCT is already higher, thus realizing a smaller percentage increase by upping it to 49.9. That may or may not be a good example, but the point remains... doping probably helps some guys more than others.

So, now suppose everyone races clean. The guys whose ability was increased dramatically by doping are suddenly going backwards relative to those riders who saw modest benefits. I think the psyche of a doper can't handle that.

It's All About the Red

It's been reported that just a couple years ago, a substantial majority of Tour riders had HCT very near the 50% limit. So you ask, what are the odds of that occurring naturally? Zilch, that's what. For males the average hematocrit is in the 43%-44% range, with a standard deviation of around 2%. That means, to be at 50% you're 3 standard deviations away from the mean. Or put another way, out of 100 people, you'd expect only a couple to be at 50%.

I wish we could see the HCT statistics of this year's riders. That data would speak volumes about how the doping fight is going.

And by the way, if you are at all unsure about the significance of hematocrit (either with EPO or blood packing) then let me suggest you try this experiment. Not only will you appreciate how important red blood cells are to your cycling, you will also be helping somebody in need of blood!


Who knows!?! I think the "Biological Passport" concept is a good start. Basically, all the top riders will have detailed blood profiling done to get a baseline look at various hormone levels. Future testing can compare to those baselines. Anomalous values can indicate the presence or use of foreign substances, thus giving the testers an idea who to focus on and what to look for.

I think the penalties should be more harsh. A lifetime ban should be considered for convicted dopers, along with strong repercussions for the rider's team. There was outrage at first when Astana was excluded from the tour... it seemed unfair to penalize riders and staff who weren't even on the team when Vino, etc., were caught. Well, too bad I say. The buck has to stop somewhere. The team ownership persists, and the no-tolerance policy must come from the top. If you want to ride the Tour, don't sign with a team that turns a blind eye toward dopers.

Of course, if you implement harsh penalties, it's also essential that the testing process be highly credible. Procedural screw-ups like in the Landis case are unacceptable, and heads should roll for those kinds of problems.

Money, money, money

It seems to me a huge issue in the doping fight is cost. For example, a single urine EPO test costs about $300. Not sure about testing for other substances like steroids, but probably similar. The few teams who are implementing internal controls are spending large sums too. I've read that Slipstream, aka Garmin-Chipotle, spends more than $300,000 per year to test their 23 riders weekly.

USADA is the official anti-doping agency in the US, and they test around 300 cyclists a year. Most of them are international-level track riders, domestic pro roadies, and top mountain bikers. And USADA does catch dopers... Adam Sbeih, Adam Bergman, Dave Fuentes, Joe D'Antoni, Matt DeCanio. All former low-level domestic pros. By the way, if you are curious about the stats of USADA testing... which sports, how many athletes, how often, even the list of names, then click this USADA link and explore.

So if you do the math, you quickly realize that quite a few high-level races have no testing at all. Why not require testing for all podium finishers at NRC races, plus one or two randoms? And at National Championships too. All it takes is money.

How Far Down Does it Go?

And so eventually every doping conversation makes its way around to another vexing question, namely, do you think that lower-level racers dope? We know that a handful of domestic pros do, as evidenced by the USADA sanctions mentioned above. But what about regional-level Cat 1's and below? How about Masters racers? And if such riders are doping, does it matter?

Hell yes it matters. Which is why my skin crawls when I hear rumor and innuendo. It even makes me uncomfortable when guys joke about it. You know the scenario... weekend group ride, Rider A is pulling like a horse, friend yells from the back, "Hey A, you blood doping again???", or some such comment. Just joking of course, but it feels too edgy to me...

...and that's partly because I hear so many comments that are not jokes at all. Earlier this year in a SoCal Pro/1/2 RR there was a guy we'll call #### who was attacking left and right trying to escape the field. Over and over, total Energizer Bunny. I was dwelling in the back half of the pack, as I'm prone to do, and my ears perked up at a conversation nearby. One teammate says to the other, in total seriousness, "#### is back on the drugs obviously", to which the other guy responds, "Yeah, I can't believe he wasn't busted last year." Now, it would be easy to attribute these dude's comments to jealousy or envy, as #### was definitely stronger than them and has some good results to his name. Except that I'd already heard similar rumors about him from another person, totally independent of the two teammates. Other circumstantial factors related to #### could be construed in that direction too, but I can't mention them or some people could solve ####'s identity.

So how does a person process these things? Ignore them completely? Challenge the rumor mongers about it? Internalize it and let it fester? Blog about it?

And of course there's &&&& in SoCal who has reportedly offered to sell steroids to other racers. Two people told me they were approached by &&&&, one even claimed to have seen the drugs. (Note: neither took him up on the offer, they say.) I have no reason to doubt their stories. And a third person, who's very much an insider, claimed to know that &&&& was being investigated by Federal authorities for interstate steroid distribution. That I heard third-hand. In this case, I believe where there's smoke, there's a good chance of fire.

A couple more rumor and innuendo situations... Two years ago I had just finished a race that rider **** completely DOMINATED. It was a thing of beauty. Afterward, standing around in our lycra, three of us were chatting about ****'s performance, and one of the guys made no secret about his belief that **** is on the program. As he was ranting, it became clear to me that his conviction was based mostly on how good **** is for his age (mid-to-late 40's) which clearly violated his sensibilities. The thing is, **** has demonstrated a phenomenal aerobic engine since a very early age, and by phenomenal I mean like Greg LeMond class. Plus, that was long before the drug era in the US. I completely dismissed this accuser's comments, and he lost a lot of credibility with me. He's since moved out of the district ...bitter I'm sure.

But another situation does eat away at me. I was told that %%%% was a doper, and since I know %%%%, I challenged the person who made the comment. He clearly stated his rationale, which was that %%%% flew across the country to do a big race, but bailed out at the last minute. I had known that already, and although I thought it a bit weird, it didn't mean very much to me. People get sick, or have anxiety, or whatever. Then this person told me that when %%%% arrived at the race and picked up his packet, he discovered that there might be doping controls at the race, which was also a surprise to everyone else who attended. That bit of info is troubling. Let me restate the accuser's argument: %%%% trains for this big race, has a legit chance to win, travels 3,000 miles to the race, discovers that he might get drug tested, so turns around and flies home. I also heard that %%%% has a 50% hematocrit.

Any number of other examples... so-and-so was killing it last year, landed on a good domestic team this year--one that claims to test internally, and his performance has dropped way off. Evidence of doping? Not in my opinion. Unless bike racing is truly your job, and you give it 100% focus, then lots of other things in life could interfere with training from one year to the next.

I suppose the bottom line is that I believe there probably are a handful of regional-level racers who use performance-enhancing drugs. Even perhaps some Masters and lower-cat riders. But I also think it's a very, very small minority.

Which is not to say I don't care, in fact, it's quite the opposite. My disgust and disdain for dopers at all levels is disproportionate with the impact on me personally, which is nearly nil. Maybe a couple times a year I might race with a doper, but he's just one of a whole bunch of guys who beat me. Eliminate him and then I might get 14th instead of 15th. Big whoop!

No, the issue is that dopers violate us more abstractly.

To be a bike racer, to really try your best, means living in a world that only other bike racers can understand. You may have lots of non-racers in your life, but they don't really get it. How can they? The total-body fatigue after five-hour training rides in the hills and heat and wind. Quads too sore to touch. Reaching max heart-rate. Putting your life in the hands of thousands of faceless drivers in 4,000 lb SUVs. Getting honked at, buzzed, and flipped off. Running out of food and bonking. Crashing and sliding on rough pavement at 25 mph. Snapping bones. Day after day, year after year...

What I'm saying is that bike racers are a tribe, uniquely bonded by extremely hard work and sacrifices and danger. Dopers are assholes who take shortcuts. They should be kicked out of the tribe.

And in the words of my immortal prophet Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pepper Fiesta!

Tomatoes may be the #1 favorite plant to grow in the summer garden, but peppers are a close 2nd for me. They grow in a wide variety of conditions, and they tolerate neglect. Maybe they even thrive on it! Currently I've got over 30 pepper plants growing, ten different varieties ranging from sweet bell peppers (shown in the picture above) to jalapenos to habaneros. You might be thinking, "what can you possibly do with all those peppers?" Well, it's great to have them around fresh. After my ride today I chopped and sauteed a couple in some scrambled eggs. When the quantity gets overwhelming, we freeze a bunch. Nice to have for winter batches of chili. I've dried and crushed them. You can even make a "tea" with hot peppers to spray on plants and repel pests.

Now my only problem is I don't remember which ones were hot and which ones were REALLY hot. Any volunteer testers?

Training Week -- 7/7 - 7/13

A lot of extended high-aerobic-zone work, and one really long ride. No hint of knee trouble at all. The Stick is great!

Mon: 0.5 hr; recovery pace
Tue: 1 hr; OSM
Wed: 3 hr; Gibraltar + east East Camino Cielo
Thu: 1.5 hr; 2x OSM, 15:28 first time, then short intervals
Fri: 0 hr
Sat: 6.5 hr; Goleta to Rose Valley and back, climbed hard
Sun: 3 hr; Worlds, a few hard efforts, inc. Bates

Total: 15.5 hrs

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wednesday Wandering

Do you always have a planned route for your ride when leave the house? Typically I don't. Instead I know about how long of a ride I want, and the intensity level to shoot for, but often I decide on the fly where to go.

Take today for example. I had about three hours for riding before my kiddie-carpool duty and I wanted some steady-state high-aerobic-zone work. Rolling out the door into the damp chill of our June Gloom, I instantly decided a trip up 101 would be out. So I turned east. I've been enjoying the hills behind Montecito lately (Belle Vista, Ladera, Park Ln., etc.) so I headed off that way.

But when I got here, a strong force pulled me to the left, and on up Gibraltar. Is there a climb anywhere in SB more enjoyable than the first few miles of this road? Not too steep, good pavement, and lots of twists and turns. There's something strangely motivating about pedaling 'round a corner on a gradual climb. It makes you feel fast somehow.

By about 1,600 foot elevation, I had ascended out of the fog and entered warm and bright sunshine. This is reason enough to go climbing on a foggy day in SB. It was so perfect that I didn't even mind upper Gibraltar's horrible pavement.

But at the top I ran into Road Closed signs, so I turned right onto the road less traveled.

Much less as it turned out.

Along the way, this stretch of East Camino Cielo presents great views of Gibraltar Rd. below, and Santa Barbara in the distance. The fog was clearing fast, but it was still a bit too hazy to see much detail. Since the road generally follows the ridge line, you also get incredible views into the upper Santa Ynez River valley and the mountains beyond.

The flawless pavement made for an enjoyable ride, but it also served a somber reminder of the accident that claimed the life of young UCSB triathlete Kendra Payne. She was riding up Gibraltar Rd. in early 2006 when she was run over by a truck carrying asphalt for the paving project on this road.

I clocked the distance at about 7 miles from the intersection until the road turns to dirt. All that way, out and back, and not a single vehicle to be seen. Remarkable.

So that was today's ride.


More wandering...

Where will you find nicer roads to climb on that what I described above? France, that's where. Just ask Matt and Ben who spent a few days wandering around in the Alps and elsewhere. Here at the top of Alpe d'Huez...

They even hooked up with Bobby Julich for a ride. I heard Bobby was slated to do the Tour, but riding with Ben and Matt cracked him so bad that Bjarne pulled him.


Former SB'er Adrian Gerrits has been wandering around to a ton of races this year, including many big-time US stage races. Redlands, Mt. Hood Classic, and the Tour of Pennsylvania to name three. Now he's about to start Super Week, which is not a stage race but will probably feel like one after two weeks. He says his legs are feeling the accumulated six months of racing, but I'll betcha he uncorks a good result back there. He better get used to giving a lot of interviews!


Wandering up north to the Canadian National Championship RR where former SB'er Jake Erker uncorked a great ride last weekend to land on the podium while helping his teammate win the Maple Leaf jersey. He talks about the race in this interview:


So yeah, I'll miss Adrian for awhile now that he's gone from SB, and Jake's long forgotten, but I don't know if I'll ever get over DK's departure to France...

I mean, now who's gonna tell me I suck!?


Wandering to Kentucky for a minute... This story has made the rounds on the internet, but I include it here just in case you missed it. Wild!

And regarding the earlier discussions (here, here, and here) about NorCal versus SoCal racers, well, I'd say SoCal handily won the first round at Masters Road Nationals in Kentucky. Peruse the results if you wish.

Round two should be at Sisquoc RR and SLO crit.


And finally, wandering over to the Cottage Hospital birthing center...

Congrats to teammate Brian and his wife Delia on the birth of their son, Braeden!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Few MBGP Pictures

Yeah, a little late but here are some pictures from last week's Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. Mostly cat 4 race, featuring Chester, and a couple 35+ and Women pro.

Click below to go to the gallery if so inclined.
Manhattan Beach Grand Prix 2008

Training Week -- 6/30 - 7/6

Some good and fast tempo riding, most of it solo.

Mon: 1 hr; recovery
Tue: 3.5 hr; Mariposa Reina & back (1:56 door-to-door) + Tuesday lunch ride
Wed: 2 hr; 2 rides, both recovery pace
Thu: 1.5 hr; OSM + 1/2 PC
Fri: 1.5 hr; SB - hwy 150 - SB
Sat: 3 hr; Casitas loop w/ 8:00 roco ride
Sun: 2.5 hr; Hills behind Montecito + 1/2 Sunday Worlds

Total: 15 hrs

Friday, July 04, 2008

More Gap Fire

Here's the best map I've seen so far of the Gap Fire's extent:

...which I found here. Obviously you'll need to manipulate the map on that website to zoom in.

I took some more pics yesterday:

Probably not the smartest thing to do, but a few of us climbed OSM at lunch yesterday, despite the approaching smoke and fire. Tall flames were visible initially, but as we descended we saw the Borate Bombers and these helicopters attacking it. They seemed to be making good progress and we didn't see any more flames. Then the wind kicked up later and the fire expanded again.

We walked around the block after dinner, but the air was rancid and not so many people were out. The sheriffs had Cathedral Oaks Rd. closed so that the emergency vehicles could pass without interference from Lookie Loos. A lot of firetrucks came through!

You must admit, the fire makes for some spectacular lighting!

Also, as for bike riding, today was fine down south of SB but I wouldn't be riding around Goleta or even Noleta. Even if there's no smoke or ash falling, all that junk on the ground gets kicked up with the slightest breeze (like from a bike or car).

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Gap Fire

The Gap Fire is burning in the hills north of our house. It started Tuesday afternoon and has been slowly and steadily moving down the mountains in our direction. Currently, it's 2-3 miles away. I think we are safe because there's a big avocado and lemon orchard between us and the wild lands where the flames are. Plus, I'd imagine Cathedral Oaks Rd. would be a good barrier, unless the winds pick up substantially.

The power went out last night during dinner and didn't come back on until past midnight. This morning I heard it was out for the entire south coast--that's 150,000 people! Note-to-self: go buy a battery-powered radio.

As the map shows, our little fire is pretty minor compared to the rest of the state, but it's always disconcerting to see flames from your front door. The area of the fire is up to 2,400 acres, ten times its size yesterday. Still minimal containment.

I took some pictures yesterday.

In the morning, all I could see from my street were wispy plumes of white smoke. It seemed as if they had knocked down the fire pretty good.

Then as I went out for my second recovery ride of the day, some spots had really flamed up and the smoke was thicker and darker. A lot of ash was raining down.

We went for a walk after dinner and saw that the fire had spread laterally along the mountains. Occasionally we'd see huge flare-ups which were probably big dry trees catching on fire.

Some nice homes up above Cathedral Oaks. Most of them now have a fire truck parked in the driveway to defend them if necessary.

The smokescreen cast an eerie orange light around the neighborhood.

A lot of spectators gathered at the end of our block. When the crowd grew to about 100 people, the CHP came through and told people to get off the road. The traffic was impeding the fire vehicles.

Mostly just white ash was falling from the sky, but occasionally we'd see entire burnt leaves like these. They were probably still burning while rising in the fire's updraft. The wind can carry them several miles before they float back to the ground. Of course the big fear is what could happen if they're still burning and they land on something flammable in the neighborhood!